Tag Archives: Ray Bradbury

The Intel: CJ Lyons

CJLyonsbookphotoLOResCJ Lyons is the bestselling author of seven Lucy Guardino thrillers, and the latest, Last Light, sees her heroine leaving the FBI to join the Beacon Group, a firm that specializes in cold cases and brings justice to forgotten victims.

Lucy is partnered with TK O’Connor, an army veteran struggling with her transition to ordinary life and they’re soon led to rural Texas to investigate their first case: the murder of Lily Martin and her young child in 1987. The convicted killers have been behind bars for the past twenty-nine years. But who really killed Lily Martin and her infant daughter? And what price will Lucy pay to expose a truth people will kill to keep buried?

CJ is a paediatric ER doctor turned New York Times bestselling author of twenty-nine novels — her ‘Thrillers With A Heart’ have notched up with sales of over 2 million. She’s assisted police and prosecutors with cases and has worked in numerous trauma centres, on a Navajo reservation, as a crisis counsellor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac.

She’s had a fascinating career, as a medic and a novelist, and in this insightful intel interview CJ discusses her indomitable heroine, our fascination with cold cases, how she picked herself up when her dream debut ended in disaster, and the piece of writing advice that Jeffery Deaver gave her…

Tell us about Lucy Guardino…

I created Lucy because I was tired of reading thrillers featuring female FBI agents who were driven by angst, fleeing demons, fighting addiction, stalked by serial killers, or with dark, forbidden secrets, etc.–all things that would never allow them to do their job effectively in the real world.

As a woman who has always worked in a male dominated field (Emergency Medicine), I wanted to create a main character I could relate to. Someone facing the same kind of struggles balancing work and family and who felt “real.”

So, I thought, why not go as real as it gets? How about a Pittsburgh soccer mom, who has a loving and supportive family? No angst, no dark past, no addictions or demons… Just the very real need to do her job the best she can while also giving her family as much love and attention as possible.

Of course, I can’t go too easy on her, so during her early adventures with the FBI, I give her the worst possible job, tracking pedophiles and sex offenders. The fact that she happens to be good at it only makes her life more complicated because she fights a constant battle of protecting her family from her work.

How has Lucy changed over the course of your novels about her…

One of the comments I hear frequently from readers is that they love Lucy because she is so very human in the way she’s grown over the course of the series. Snake Skin, her first adventure, focused on the almost universal tension that adults face, juggling family and work. And when your work is saving lives and chasing down the worst of the worst, how can you say no?

Each novel is different, from dark psychological suspense in Blood Stained, to action-adventure in Kill Zone, to a set-in-real-time fight for her life in After Shock, and the consequences of that fight in Hard Fall. With each challenge she faces, each mistake as well as each triumph, Lucy has paid a price, and come away with a better understanding of herself.

I think the novel that best reveals this is Hard Fall, which won the International Thriller Writers’ 2015 Thriller Award. It was by far the most difficult book I’ve ever tackled, featuring a survivor of childhood sexual abuse without ever showing any of the violence she suffered on the page—instead, I focused on the psychological ramifications that impacted her life. Parallel to her story is Lucy’s own struggle with the trauma she’s suffered and the choices she faces about her own future, not just her career but her physical and mental well-being along with her family’s needs.

Last Light sees Lucy starting a new life with an organization which investigates Cold Cases – why are we as readers so obsessed with unsolved historical murders?

I think readers enjoy reading about cold cases because as humans we hate it when chaos wins out over justice. And, at least here in the US, unsolved murders remind us that there are places where killers can get away with murder — not because law enforcement is incompetent in any way, but simply because they are overworked and underfunded with huge swathes of land to cover with minimal manpower. We sleep better at night believing justice is served.

Last_Light-crop-smallYou’ve described your novels as Thrillers With Heart – what do you mean by that?

I never enjoyed the thriller novels that treated characters like they were just along for the ride or that featured gratuitous sex and violence without any emotional honesty to give them real impact. Like many authors, I’m more interested in the grey spaces between the black and white of good and evil than I am the car chases and explosions, so I created the term “Thrillers with Heart” to describe my particular brand of crime fiction. They combine the fast-paced adrenaline rush expected from a thriller with an exploration of the emotions that come from exposure to violence.

Your first publishing deal ended in disaster – tell us what happened…

My first medical thriller, Nerves Of Steel, was bought by a major US publisher in a pre-empt and seemed to be destined to be my dream debut: hardcover, endorsements from a dozen NYT Bestsellers, great pre-sales…until, due to factors totally beyond my control (cover art issues), it was cancelled a few weeks prior to its scheduled release.

Pfft, no more dream debut, no more contracts…In fact, I would have to fight to get my rights back after my original agent left me high and dry.

Plus, when my debut was cancelled, I’d already left my medical practice and so was unemployed for the first time since I was 15. But after a few days feeling sorry for myself, I realized that the best thing I could do if I wanted to make my dream of becoming a published author come true was to keep writing.

While I worked on a new book, I fought to get my rights back from that first publisher. (In fact, I went on to self-publish Nerves Of Steel, which became a bestseller, and due to reader demand has led to three sequels, Sleight Of Hand, Face To Face, and Eye Of The Storm.) It was rough going, but I kept writing.

Two weeks after I won that battle and received my rights back, a publisher with Penguin/Putnam called and asked if I’d like to create a new medical suspense series targeting women readers, along the lines of Grey’s Anatomy meets ER. Of course I said yes and sat down to write Lifelines, my first bestseller.

Oh, and just to show that karma has a sense of humor, the book I wrote after being ditched by my first publisher? Blind Faith, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list…

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The hardest lesson for me came after that first disaster of losing my dream debut to forces beyond my control. I learned that no one — not my publisher, editor, or agent — was more invested than the success of my novels than I was. So I had to learn how to become my own champion, which meant learning the business.

As a pediatrician, I’ve never run a business, so I threw myself into learning everything I could about marketing, branding, copy writing, audience demographics, profit/loss statements, contracts, etc. Soon I knew more about my audience than my publishers!

I realized that if you want to become a career novelist, you need to take control of the business side of things because you are actually CEO of a Global Media Empire. Your publishers (I’ve worked with most of the major US publishers as well as almost two dozen more around the globe) are your partners, not your patrons. You need to be clear about what you bring to that partnership and what they have to offer and be ready to walk away from any contract that isn’t serving your readers.

When it comes to business, my mantra is: “good” isn’t good enough for my readers, they deserve “great!”

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Ray Bradbury had the greatest influence on me as a child. He was the first author who taught me that the words themselves can be as beautiful as the pictures they create and worlds they build. I love the way he can evoke emotion on a very subliminal level. I also adore Mark Helprin, Alice Hoffman, and Tana French among others.

Give me some advice about writing…

The best piece of advice for either my writing or my business came from Jeffery Deaver. We were sitting together at an awards banquet (we both won, which was fun) and I asked him what his best words of wisdom were. He told me: Never forget, the reader is god.

In other words, think about the reader with every decision.

Unsure about a plot twist? Will your readers love it?

Should you spend your time tweeting or writing the next book? Write the next book, of course—that’s what your readers want.

What will make your readers excited, delighted, and ready to tell their friends about your books?

Once you keep that vision in mind, your path becomes so much easier, profitable, and much more fun!

What’s next for you?

I’m currently putting the final polish on Lucy’s next adventure, Devil Smoke. It deals with obsession, grief, and denial, featuring a woman who has lost her life to amnesia and Lucy’s team’s efforts to help her. Of course, the twists and turns lead back to a cold case that hits much too close to home. It’s due out July 25, 2016.

***

Last Light by CJ Lyons is published by Canelo, priced £3.99 in eBook.

 

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The Intel: Chet Williamson

Author headshotYou may have heard of a novel called Psycho. Some fellow made a movie of Robert Bloch’s novel which, arguably, changed the course of movies and horror fiction forever. Without Norman Bates there wouldn’t have been a whole slew of slasher movies, or sly, charming killers such as Hannibal Lecter, Patrick Bateman and Dexter Morgan.

In the years since Hitchcock’s movie, Bates, the nerdy fellow with the Mummy issues, has been reinvented several times — sequels followed, and a TV series. But Bloch’s original novel has remained somewhat under the radar. Now Chet Williamson has taken Bates back to his gritty midwestern roots. He’s written an authorised sequel to Bloch’s book, called Psycho: Sanitarium.

In this terrific interview, Williamson talks about what is like to get his hands on one of the most famous characters in fiction, about how Hitchcock’s Bates swerved from Bloch’s original vision — and how, if you want to be a successful writer, it’s perhaps best to stay pessimistic…

How does it feel to have got your hands on one the most iconic characters in crime fiction – Norman Bates? 

It feels fantastic! The film of Psycho terrified me when I saw it as a kid, and I immediately bought the Robert Bloch book and have been a Bloch fan my whole life. To be offered a character that is such an icon of suspense and horror fiction was a dream come true. Having done some licensed characters in the past, I’d determined never to do so again, but to have the opportunity to create a novel with Norman Bates?

There was no way I could say no, especially since it was an immediate sequel to Bloch’s original novel, and I could tell the story of what happens after we leave Norman (and Mother) in his little cell after his arrest. I’d always loved the character, who is as sympathetic and empathetic as he is frightening.

We’re familiar with Hitchcock’s adaptation, but maybe not so much with Robert Bloch’s source novel – how does it differ from the movie?

For one thing, Norman isn’t nearly as physically attractive as Anthony Perkins. He’s in his forties rather than his twenties, and he’s somewhat overweight, which makes his discomfort with the opposite sex more believable. Also, the original isn’t set in California. Bloch never names a state, but internal evidence suggests somewhere in the Kansas/Missouri/Oklahoma/Arkansas area.

How has Norman changed since we last met him?

Not much, really. Only a few months have passed since his arrest and confinement, and he’s remained almost completely incommunicative. He’s trying to break out of his shell, but Mother’s having none of it.

Cover imageWhat do you think you have brought to the character that wasn’t in Bloch’s original vision?

I may be a bit more sympathetic toward Norman than Robert Bloch was. While Bloch makes you feel sympathetic toward him in the original novel, when he wrote Psycho II, which is set over twenty years later (and which has nothing to do with the Psycho 2 film), he makes Norman quite monstrous, and his initial acts of violence, which are perpetrated by Norman himself rather than Mother, are shocking in the extreme. I’ve tried to elicit in the reader a greater empathy toward and understanding of Norman, the same feelings that Bloch elicited in the original Psycho back in 1959.

Norman’s in a Hospital For The Criminally Insane, which is fertile ground for crime and horror writers – did you have any other favourite authors or movies you returned to for inspiration? 

Nothing fictional, really, though I did turn, for both research and inspiration, to the 1967 Frederick Wiseman documentary, Titicut Follies, set in Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Massachusetts. If you think fictional films about early psychiatric care are shocking, the real thing as seen in this film is utterly horrifying.

If you could get your hands on another iconic crime fiction character, who would it be?

Well, I do love villains. I’ve always wanted to do something with a super-criminal along the lines of Fantomas or Dr. Mabuse, which I think would be fascinating in these times when he who controls the Internet controls the world.

How did you start writing?

A: I came to it through acting. It’s a long story, but as an actor, which I did professionally for a time, it wasn’t long before I realized that the true creators were the writers. I started writing for theatre, and then turned to fiction. I still keep my hand in as an actor by narrating audiobooks — in fact, I’ve just completed the audiobook of Psycho: Sanitarium. It’s always a delight for me to record my own work, since I know the characters will sound as I intended them to sound.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

A: Not to give up, and never to expect too much. Stay pessimistic and you’ll never be too disappointed to continue. Write for yourself and for those readers who relate to your work.  It’s a rough way to make a living, even more so now with all the competition from self-published writers on the Internet. Fortunately I’ve had a supportive wife all these years. It’s very tough to survive on your own.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Of the old masters, Joseph Conrad, for his ability to make readers see,  P. G. Wodehouse, for never failing to make me laugh, M. R. James, for his truly terrifying ghost stories, and H. P. Lovecraft, one of the most alien writers and human beings imaginable. From my childhood, Robert Bloch, whose clean style I’ve always admired and tried to emulate, and Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury, for their unfettered imaginations. Contemporary writers include Joe R. Lansdale, pound for pound the best writer in America today, and the UK’s Ramsey Campbell, a superb stylist and storyteller.

Give me some advice about writing… 

My advice is to not ever take any advice on writing. Seriously. Everyone works in different ways. Be true to your own method of working. If outlining works for you, then outline. If you’re happier just forging ahead without an idea of where you’re going and can fix things during revision, then do it.

The only books on writing I’ve ever read that were worth a damn were the American John Gardner’s trilogy, On Moral Fiction, On Becoming a Novelist, and The Art of Fiction, and Oscar Lee Brownstein’s Strategies of Drama, which is primarily for playwrights but equally valuable for fiction writers. Whatever you do, avoid books that say, “This is what you must do.” No, you mustn’t.

What’s next for you?

It’s been a full year, with the Psycho book and two collections having come out (The Night Listener and Others from England’s PS Publishing and A Little Blue Book of Bibliomancy from Borderlands Press). So after Psycho: Sanitarium is safely launched, I’m planning on doing some reading and research in preparation for a new novel. I have a thematic idea, but little else, and being that I’m an outliner, there’s work to be done!

***

Psycho: Sanitarium is published by Canelo, price £3.99 in eBook.

 

The Intel: S Williams

S WilliamsLast week we went underground to review Tuesday Falling, in which a vengeful young woman who goes to war with London’s gangland and dispatches lots of unpleasant young men in a variety of violent ways. We liked Tuesday’s odyssey very much, and said the book had a powerful cartoon energy. To see that review, don’t be coy, scroll down and take a look. We’ll still be here when you get back, if you’re quick.

Anyway, you know where this is going. We caught up with the enigmatic S Williams, a fascinating guy, to talk about his singular feminist protag, about the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the streets and how, where writing is concerned, you’ve just got to take the advice of Tom Waits.

Tell us about Tuesday…

How to answer without spoilers…

Tuesday is a 17-year-old girl who, for reasons unknown, is ripping through London gangland and revenging their victims. She is a seemingly unstoppable murderbomb with a nice turn in dark humour and a penchant for interesting weapons. She is broken and beautiful and exactly who she needs to be, when she needs to be it.

Where did you get the inspiration for Tuesday Falling?

For the settings it was working in the tunnels under London, which are incredible. They go for miles and miles and pop up like secrets behind the most ordinary of doors. Unless you know they are there you wouldn’t believe it. For the vibe it was just a desire to put into a story what it was like to be an outsider living in the machine of a city. There are so many great books and films about Gangster London, but I’d never found one that described quite what I wanted to see.

Much of the book takes place in those hidden places. How much research did you do about London?

Loads! On the interweb. Walking Tuesday’s world in London. Travelling the tube, zoning into the rhythm. Visiting the museums. The estates. Plus a couple of things I can’t talk about, but if you’ve read the book you probably can guess!

Tuesday FallingWhat’s the most interesting thing you learned about the city?

That it is not just one thing. It is layer upon layer. It is both macro and quantum. It stretches backwards and forwards in time as you walk through it. That it breathes with the people who live and work there. That it can break your heart and spit you out one day, then hold you tight and give you succour the next. That you can die there and no one will notice, and you can live there and never get seen. That it is a fun-fair and a mincing machine both.

I highly recommend it.

There’s a strong YA vibe to the book – did you worry that some of the more extreme violence would put off younger readers?

Short answer is no, but fair point. Although Tuesday is not marketed as a YA book it does has great appeal to that age range. Obviously this is the same group that plays GTA, loves the Walking Dead, gets sent to institutions that breed bullying and prey on difference, owns hardware that allows them to watch anything they can dream up, and generates it’s own separate language so that the ‘adults’ don’t even know what they’re talking about. A Clockwork Orange, anyone? Ultimately, it’s all about context, and I feel completely comfortable with a YA audience reading Tuesday.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Wow. Where to start?

Catherine Storr, because without her my literary childhood would not have been so special and full of light and shade. Ditto Alan Garner, Roald Dahl and Isaac Asimov. Books are doorways through which to escape. This is especially true when young. Ray Bradbury for his short stories. Like a kiss in the dark on a ghost train. Stephen King for writing the book that allowed Jack Nicholson to appear in that film with that axe. Jim Thompson for writing crime fiction that is more like a tour of a war-zone than anything else. Andrew Vachss. No need to explain. Just read him.

Another day would be a completely different list.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it doesn’t always come out right. In fact hardly ever. The gap between what I see in my head and what I see on the page is immense. Pour a drink and hide away immense. Give up, shut the curtains and just watch TV forever immense. But as Tom Waits so eloquently says, though, ‘You gotta get behind the mule’. All you can do is keep on going until something works. Something sticks that you like. Then grab it and run like hell. Really. Run.

Give me some advice about writing…

I would never presume to give anyone advice about writing. Even when I give myself advice about writing I get a sneer and a slap. All I can say is that it has given me enormous pleasure, in between the self-doubt, the empty page that laughs at you and the lost chapters you have just written as your computer crashes.

Right. Yes. Advice. Save as you go along! Or use a computer that saves automatically to cyberspace. And never give up. It’s work, like anything else.

What’s next for you?

Got quite a lot on the go, at the moment!

Getting to grips with the publicity side of Tuesday. Writing a novel about a girl gang. Finishing off the script for an immersive ghost evening in an abandoned building. And then there’s always the chance that Tuesday may return out of the shadows…

Plus gin, Berlin-era Bowie and chess by the fire.